Coaches Corner: Notes from Foxboro

The New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had nothing but compliments in store for his press conference about the playoff game against the Denver Broncos on Saturday. Not one to get sucked into a war of words, Belichick threw around descriptions of how tough the Broncos play, how good their coach is, and that it will be a very difficult game to win. Tim Coughlin provides a breakdown of what the coach had to say this week.

In a press conference on Thursday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick discussed how he uses his playbook, how his team compares with Denver coach Mike Shanahan's, and what coaching problems have arisen for him over the course of the season.

Belichick on what percentage of his playbook he makes use of over the course of the regular season.

"Well, the whole body of the regular season, you're talking about 16 games? Probably most of it. Probably 95 percent of it. But within any given game that would get scaled-back. Basically, what we try to do at the end of the year, between the end of the year and the beginning of the next year, is to go through the playbook and say, 'Okay is there anything in here that we really don't want? Is there anything that we don't use or the reason why we're not using it is because either a) the situation isn't coming up any more like it used to or b) we've actually shifted from this over to something else that we think is a little bit better for these type of situations?' So when you get to that point, to me, I say get rid of it ... when you just add, add, add, pretty soon it just becomes an unmanageable amount. That's kind of the way we look at it."

Nothing is saved specifically for the postseason, Belichick added, saying, "What we have we have. Every game is important. We try to win every game. So if there is a play that we think can help us win a game, then it's going to be in the game plan regardless if it's the first game or the last game or anyone in between."

On the fact that both the Patriots and the Broncos have two talented kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Jason Elam, and what role it might play in the game Saturday.

Belichick complimented Elam's range this year, saying, "there's no question that he has range and that stretches it a little bit and he's an accurate kicker," but was careful to note he didn't think he'd have to worry about a long, game-winning field goal attempt from Denver. "Yeah, the end of the game situation ... for that one situation that's an advantage, but there's really pretty few of those," he said. "How many game-winning kicks are going to be between 55 and 60 yards? Hey, if it comes up then that can be a great play, but the chances of that happening are probably once every couple of years. It's the more important situations, the more frequent ones, kind of the normal field goals, 50 and under, the kickoffs, the situational kicking, as it applies to conditions, score and so forth. I think those are much more common factors."

Belichick stressed that a coach should only put his kicker in when he has full confidence his player can make the ball sail through the uprights, saying, "No matter who your kicker is, if it's a field goal situation and you put the guy out there, you have to feel like he is going to make it, even though you know they're not going to make every single one of them. But I don't think you can coach [that way], 'Well, here's what he's going to do. Now we're going to put him in. But we don't really think he can do it.' You can't coach like that." When asked if there has been a more conscious effort to attempt less field goals this year, the coach remarked that if fewer have been attempted, it's nothing to read into and that "those are game situation decisions."

On whether John Lynch is the one player in Denver's defensive scheme the team needs to make sure it is aware of.

Belichick agreed Lynch presents problems, but went on to gradually name most of the Broncos' defensive starters as other key players to prepare for. "They (the Broncos) involve John in quite a bit of their pressure defense, so they probably blitz him out of the secondary more than any other player," he said. "So from that standpoint you've got to be aware of him. Now, he doesn't always blitz. He probably blitzes, I don't know, four or five times a game. Like in the San Diego game, if he blitzes and you don't account for him then there's strip sacks and hits in the backfield and all of that. Those can be huge plays. I think John is definitely a guy you have to account for, but it's hard to get past Al Wilson. It's even harder to get past Trevor Pryce. You've got to be real careful with Champ Bailey. And all those linebackers, as blitzers, are very fast. I'm talking about [Ian] Gold and D.J. [Williams] and Al, when they blitz him. So they're all problems too ... You take a guy like Trevor Pryce who literally can play all four spots across the line and he's an outstanding player. This guy is as good as anybody we've played. [He] can play end and tackle and plays both sides. He's a tough matchup for everybody, and they've all got to be ready for him to know exactly how that one's going to unfold, where he's going to be. But he's a problem no matter where he is."

The coach then touched on how Denver's defensive rotation works, saying, "For the most part it's two groups, but within that players like Pryce play more than some other guys. [Michael] Myers, [Ebenezer] Ekuban, [Courtney] Brown, [Gerrard] Warren, they're deep and they're good."

On what coaching challenges have presented themselves throughout the year and what areas he found he focused more on than in years past.

"I think each year is different from the next and even though, generally speaking, I am in a lot of the same areas," he said. "I would say this year I've probably spent, time wise, a little more time with the front seven than say last year."

When it was mentioned how the team played through even more issues in the secondary, Belichick said, "Well, I spent time with them too. There was a point in the year where I met with those guys on a regular basis and I still do meet with some of them individually on a weekly basis. I think the question was from more of a time commitment standpoint, I would just say this year I've spent more time with the front seven than I have in the last couple of years."

On Champ Bailey's ball skills as a corner back.

"Outstanding. Outstanding ball skills," he said. "He's a smart player. He anticipates well ... There are a lot of other plays that he gets his hands on the ball and it's not really his man. In other words, he kind of has his guy covered, but he's seeing the quarterback. He sees the ball thrown and then he breaks on the ball. Like if they're trying to high/low him or if they're trying to run a guy outside and then hook up a guy inside of him and he has the outside guy but he sees the quarterback kind of come off that one and look inside, then he'll cheat to that and he'll make some plays on passes that really it's not his guy, but he has his area under control and he has the anticipation and then the speed, the quickness and the ball skills to close to the ball and then be a factor on those plays too. So, even though they're not throwing to him, a lot of times when they're throwing around him, he becomes a factor on those plays, when most corners wouldn't."

Belichick then went on to speculate that Bailey's work as a receiver in college helped him acquire the extra skill to convert interceptions, saying, "I say this in jest to the defensive players, especially the defensive backs, that if they were really good offensive players, they would be on offense. Their coaches would have left them on offense, whether it be high school, college or whatever it was. If they were that good of a receiver or that good of a running back or quarterback, whatever position those guys play, if they were that good, it's hard for me to imagine a high school or college coach saying, 'Well, we don't want that 150 yards of receiving this guy can produce,' or, 'We're not really interested in that 130 yards this guy can run for. Let's get him over there at safety.' Usually they're on defense because they don't quite have the skill to play offense. Not always, but for the most part. Now when you get a player like a Champ Bailey, who has exceptional ball skills, then that's what you're going to see. You going to see a guy that has superior talent and then has those seven, eight, nine interceptions, whatever it is, that another corner is going to have four, but he's going to drop those other four that Bailey is going to catch."

On what goes into the decision of operating shotgun on first down or not.

"I think there are a lot of factors. It changes your protections," he said. "It gives you the ability to change your protections some when you're out away from center. When you're under center and they walk people up then you just can't have the backs come up and get those guys because they can't get them, so the linemen have to take them. Whereas when you're in the shotgun, you can have backs come up and take guys that are blitzing in the center/guard gap or sometimes the guard/tackle gap. You can handle those protections a little bit differently... The shorter passing game is tougher to execute out of the shotgun because a) it takes longer, but b) I don't think the quarterback sees it quite as quickly because he does have to handle the ball and get a grip on it and be ready to get it into the technique of throwing it. Now in terms of the down the field throws, I think that those can be timed out. We have plays in our passing game, like a lot of other teams do, that it doesn't matter whether we're under center, in the shotgun, we could do either one and be perfectly comfortable with it.

On how Ty Warren has been doing.

"Ty has had a good year. I think he's improved a lot through the year," he said. "I could say that about just about every one of our defensive players, that every one of them, no matter what their experience level has been, that they've played better as the year has gone on. But, I would say it was particularly true for Ty, that he's really made some good strides say from where he was in the first third of the season to maybe the last two thirds. I think he's been a very consistent player for us. With him and Richard [Seymour] or him and Jarvis [Green], however it works out there, that we've gotten good balanced play from both of those ends, as we have from outside linebackers with Willie [McGinest] and Rosie [Colvin] or even Mike earlier in the year. So I think being balanced on defense has helped us. Where there's not a big imbalance, where they are going to run the plays away from this guy and that type of thing, that we've been pretty consistent across the board there."

On whether or not he purposely formulates "trick plays" to throw off opposing defenses.

Belichick simply stated "No" before going on to explain, after further prodding, "it's kind of X's and O's. When we put the play in, whatever play is called, '137-Cross,' if that's the name of the play. Here's what we're running. It's not, 'Well, we're running this play and this guy is going to be here.' That could be Ashworth. It could be Vrabel. It could be [Daniel] Graham. It could be [Christian] Fauria. It could be [Benjamin] Watson. It could be [David] Givens. It could be a lot of different guys. And we just learn the play. Then whoever is playing that position, then that's what they do. You might not want to call that play if it's a certain player in there. I'm sure if you asked our linemen on plays like that, they wouldn't be able to tell you who that player was. It doesn't matter to them. They just hear the play and they run it."

Later, on the idea of saving plays to shake things up, Belichick verged on contradicting earlier statements by saying it's natural to have "deceptive plays" and to use them later in the season when they've been practiced more and against different defensive scenarios. Still, he only said he does not design plays specifically for the postseason and that he does have about 5 percent of his playbook still unused.

"It's not really very time efficient to put in a triple reverse pass. 'Okay, we're going to run the triple reverse pass this week against Houston,'" he said. "Now the game is over and you haven't called it for whatever reason. The situation hasn't come up and all of that. 'Let's throw that out and next week let's work on the double flea flicker.' You can only practice those plays so many times in practice ... It's a lot easier if you just say, 'Okay here are some deceptive plays that we have. We have a halfback pass. We have a double reverse pass. We have some other lateral play.' Whatever it is. Okay, you put it in. You kind of work on it every week. 'Okay, we don't want to call it this week. Let's work on this other one this week.' Then eventually you get to it, but your players have some familiarity with the play because, again, when you call that, you don't know exactly what's going to come up. It could be man. It could be zone. It could be blitz. It could an over/under. So, if you run the play once a week for five, six, seven weeks cumulatively, now you've had some experience with the play and then probably whatever happens you have a pretty good chance of handling it ... I think you're a lot better off with those plays if you just kind of have them in your offense and you have a familiarity with them and then when the right time comes to call them maybe you say, 'Hey this week, that halfback pass looks pretty good. We're going to run it a couple of more times than we normally would.' Then it comes up in the game and then you call it.

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